The Three Appearances of Jesus, 3

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The second coming of Christ to the earth, which is the third appearance of Jesus, begins with the rapture of the saints (the “blessed hope” of the Church), followed by the visible, literal, and physical return of Christ to the earth with His saints, where He will rule and reign for one thousand years.  This period is known as the Millennium and, among other things, will bring national Israel into God’s family and establish universal peace.

That paragraph, which large chunks of the Church believes, has caused a lot of theological violence over the years thanks in part to the adherence of certain denominations to something called The Westminster Confession of Faith which is a wonderful document written by men in an attempt to systematize and categorize the elements of Christian doctrine.  It’s a worthy attempt at this but, as worthy as this document is, it is necessarily flawed as it written by man.  The WCF (as it is known) devotes a scant sentence or two to the doctrine of the Second Coming.   Since the document fails to mention the rapture, the Millennium, and other Biblical elements of eschatology, churches that wholly embrace it  will have nothing to do with them.  In fact, sometimes, they are downright nasty in their opposition to them.  For some unfathomable reason  they feel positively threatened by people who hold to this orthodox, historical version of Eschatology.

Before going any further, let me assure those who may hold to a different view of Eschatology that I am not your enemy!  I have no war with you, nor do I think any less of you.  I think the WCF is an awesome document.  However, when it comes to doctrine and theology, I am of the opinion that it is better to go to the best document available:  the Holy Bible.  It’s helpful to know what others think the Bible says, but it’s essential to know what Bible says.  No Christian needs the Westminster Divines, John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, me or any other great or near-great Christians to tell them what and how to think.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  (2 Timothy 3:16  NIV) 

With that out of the way, let’s discuss an unnecessarily hotly disputed point.  Will our Lord return before or after the Millennium?  There are those who say He will return before the Millennium; that He is One who establishes the Millennium.  Others teach that Jesus will return after the Millennium.  Still others – hold on to your seats – teach that we are in the Millennium right now.  The Bible contains the truth, and that’s what we need to know.  According to the Good Book, what will the world look like when Christ returns?  What will be the condition of man at the moment He returns?

The testimony of the prophets, Daniel 12:1, 2 

“At that time Michael, the mighty angelic prince who stands guard over your nation, will stand up and fight for you in heaven against satanic forces, and there will be a time of anguish for the Jews greater than any previous suffering in Jewish history. And yet every one of your people whose names are written in the Book will endure it.  And many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”  (TLB)

These two verses seem to put to death the notion that we are in the Millennium right now.  This is what society will look like at the tail end of the Great Tribulation, just before the Jesus returns.  We know this because Jesus used language just like this to describe world conditions just prior to His return.  But here, Daniel’s vision concerns his people, the Jews.  It will be a dark time for them “at that time,” a phrase that designates the end of the end times.  It will be a time of unparalleled anguish and suffering.   Obviously there will be no utopia on earth.

What the Gospels say

The Second Coming of Jesus will be preceded by a time of terrible distress on earth that will touch both Jew and Gentile.

Then there will be strange events in the skies—warnings, evil omens and portents in the sun, moon and stars; and down here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides.  The courage of many people will falter because of the fearful fate they see coming upon the earth, for the stability of the very heavens will be broken up.  Then the peoples of the earth shall see me, the Messiah, coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  (Luke 21:25–27  TLB) 

The kingdom of God, which is by definition “God’s rule and reign,” is here now but will be consummated and fully established at our Lord’s second coming.  To look at the what the world is like now,  it’s hard to imagine that the Lord “ruling and reigning!”  But He is.  Matthew 13 gives us a realistic view of the pathetic state of the kingdom of God as it is constituted right now.  It will be even worse just before Christ returns.

Let both grow together until the harvest, and I will tell the reapers to sort out the thistles and burn them, and put the wheat in the barn.  (Matthew 13:30  TLB) 

That’s the tail-end of a parable which tells of a farmer’s wheat field that has been infested with weeds.  The workers wanted to go out and pull all the weeds but the owner of the field, God, told His workers to hold off.  Pulling weeds – judging between saint and sinner – is not the job of the workers.  The point of that parable is that in the kingdom now are many who don’t belong here.  Just look at the state of the Christian church today.  It’s hard to know who the players are without a program!

When I return the world will be as indifferent to the things of God as the people were in Noah’s day.  They ate and drank and married—everything just as usual right up to the day when Noah went into the ark and the Flood came and destroyed them all.  And the world will be as it was in the days of Lot: people went about their daily business—eating and drinking, buying and selling, farming and building—until the morning Lot left Sodom. Then fire and brimstone rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.  Yes, it will be ‘business as usual’ right up to the hour of my return.  (Luke 17:26 – 30  TLB) 

The key words in what Jesus said are:  “Noah’s day” and “days of Lot.”  In case you forgot, neither of those days were particularly good days!  Sin was rampant.  In fact, man had deteriorated to such a state that God had no choice but to execute a devastating judgment.  In the case of Noah’s day, all life on earth was destroyed, save for the life aboard the ark.  In Lot’s day, the sinful inhabitants of a whole valley were killed.

Yes, the world was at its worst during the days of Noah and Lot.  No, things will not get better and better before the Lord returns.  It’s clear things will get worse and worse.

“But the question is: When I, the Messiah, return, how many will I find who have faith and are praying?”  (Luke 18:9  TLB) 

That’s a rhetorical question Jesus asked.  The self-evident answer is “None.”  In other words, faith will be in very short supply when Jesus comes back.

What the letters say 

It’s not only Jesus who talked about His second coming.  Paul did.  Here’s a sampling:

But the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some in the church will turn away from Christ and become eager followers of teachers with devil-inspired ideas.  These teachers will tell lies with straight faces and do it so often that their consciences won’t even bother them.  (1 Timothy 4:1, 2  TLB) 

There has always been false teaching in the church, but it’s rampant today.  But then you can’t have false teachers in the church without eager listeners and followers in the pews.  Today’s Christian is so Biblically illiterate, it’s a sad testimony to members of my profession.  Today’s Christian will believe just anything!  They have no discernment and no understanding of or even desire to understand deeper spiritual things.  They don’t know what they don’t know.  They have itchy ears and will follow anybody whose teaching makes them feel good.

For people will love only themselves and their money; they will be proud and boastful, sneering at God, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful to them, and thoroughly bad.  They will be hardheaded and never give in to others; they will be constant liars and troublemakers and will think nothing of immorality. They will be rough and cruel, and sneer at those who try to be good. They will betray their friends; they will be hotheaded, puffed up with pride, and prefer good times to worshiping God.  They will go to church, yes, but they won’t really believe anything they hear. Don’t be taken in by people like that.  (2 Timothy 3:2 – 5  TLB) 

That’s not an editorial from “Christianity Today!”  It IS Christianity today, as seen from a vantage point of some 2,000 years ago.  Jesus once said that His church would prevail; that even the gates of Hell wouldn’t stand against it.  He was right; Hell won’t wreck the church because church members are doing a good job of that on their own.

First, I want to remind you that in the last days there will come scoffers who will do every wrong they can think of and laugh at the truth.  This will be their line of argument: “So Jesus promised to come back, did he? Then where is he? He’ll never come! Why, as far back as anyone can remember, everything has remained exactly as it was since the first day of creation.”  (2 Peter 3:3, 4  TLB) 

When there is no respect for the teachings of Scripture or the institutions of faith, people stop taking the doctrines of faith seriously.  Naturally we see this occurring in the world all the time; that shouldn’t surprise us at all.  But we are starting to see it happening in the church.  Bible teachers and pastors making fun of those of us who take Bible prophecy seriously; questioning the intelligence of their fellows who are doing exactly what the Bibles admonishes Christians to do:  watch and pray.

Once again, I ask the question: Why is knowing this important?  A lot of Christians think it isn’t.  They think it’s a foolish waste of time talking about future events that they don’t even think will happen.  And even if they are going happen in the future, what of it?  How does what will happen effect us in the here and now?  Don’t we have enough trouble today?

What we’ve been looking at today is what theologians call “the Tribulation.”  It will be period of seven years preceding the Second Coming.  It’s important to know about this time of God’s wrath because the Bible has a lot to say about it.  To dismiss the Tribulation is to dismiss large portions of the Old Testament, including whole books.  It is to dismiss the Word of the Lord to His people.  It is to dismiss significant teachings of Jesus – the Olivet Discourse – and most of the book of Revelation.  Understanding the Tribulation is to understand why “the Gospel of the kingdom” is so important and even what it is.  To dismiss the Tribulation is to dismiss God’s people, the Jews.  God’s purpose for Israel as far as the Tribulation goes is to bring about their conversion so that they may finally receive the promised blessings of prophecies dating back to Abraham.

But not only is the Tribulation vital to the future of Israel, it also demonstrates that God knows what’s going on today.  God will be judging the nations during this seven year period.  They will be judged because of their ungodliness.  This is not unimportant.  Just look around at what the nations of the world are doing:  killing innocent people; oppressing others; stealing wealth they’re not entitled to; passing laws robbing their own citizens of freedom, religious and otherwise.  They have to be punished; somebody has to hold them accountable for their atrocious actions.  God can’t give these nations a pass, and He won’t!

This is why knowing what will happen is so important.  God’s very character is at stake.  Without these seven years, God comes off looking uninformed, uncaring, uninvolved and disinterested in the world He created and the people He loves.

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